Public Lands Access - Paonia Area
Mount Lamborn TrailMap
This is the day long hike to the top of Mount Lamborn starting at about 6000 ft. in elevation and climbing to over 11,000 ft. and a spectacular view of the whole Valley. Mount Lamborn and Landsend Peak (the cone shaped one) are the two peaks that dominate the southeastern skyline from Hotchkiss.
The trailhead is located about 8 miles southwest of Paonia. Proceed out of town on Onarga south-west across Lamborn and Stewart Mesas until you reach the Roeber Wildlife Easement (signs). Then it is just three more miles in a 4WD to the trailhead. From the sign at the trailhead, the hike to the crest of Mt. Lamborn takes about 5 1/2 -7 hours up (at a steady pace, with reasonable rest breaks) and 4-5 hours back down. So plan to get started early and take water!
Minnesota Creek Road (Gunnison National Forest and West Elk Wilderness Access)Map
Going up into the Minnesota Creek drainage southeast of Paonia gives you access to some of the most beautiful wilderness in the region. This is the easiest way to do a day hike into the West Elk Wilderness.
Simply drive to Paonia, preferably in your four-wheel drive...
Turn off of Highway 133 at the Baptist Church (Stop n’Save gas station on the opposite side of road) proceed across the river and into town. You are now on 3rd Street.
Do some shopping and eat breakfast in Paonia (Lasting Impressions on 2nd carries topo maps - general forest maps are also available at the Paonia Forest Service office on North Rio Grande Ave.) and then proceed east on 3rd street to Colorado Ave. Follow Colorado Ave. on out-of-town where it becomes 0-50 Drive. The first 8 miles or so are okay for a car or light truck, but once you start to climb, a four wheel drive is mandatory. The road is dirt and gets pretty rough.
About 7 miles from town you’ll come to a fork; take the road on the right marked “Beaver Reservoir.” This is a very rough and slow eight miles that will bring you to the aforementioned reservoir. A short walk east or south from Beaver Reservoir will take you into the West Elk Wilderness Area. Directly to the east is the nearly 13,000 foot Mount Gunnison which can be climbed in a single day providing you start from the reservoir area very early in the day. You will need USGS Topo - “Minnesota Pass Quadrangle” if you plan to do much backcountry travel in the immediate area.
West Elk Wilderness AreaMap
The West Elk Wilderness Area is an area of 176, 000 acres within the Gunnison National Forest with high country elevations from about 7000 feet to over 13,000 feet. There are more than 200 miles of officially constructed trails in the Wilderness Area which reaches east more than 40 miles and north-south about 50 miles. From the North Fork Valley most of the high mountains you see to the east and slightly south are within the wilderness area. It takes 11 USGS Topo quad maps to cover the entire wilderness area.
The best times to plan a West Elk Wilderness hiking or pack trip are from mid June through September when the high country is clear of snow. After September until heavy snowfall, the woods in the area are pretty much best left to the hunters.
Popular official trailheads on the north side of the area, Robinson Creek, Little Coal Creek and Horse Ranch Park, can be reached via the Kebler Pass road – which departs Highway 133 about 16 miles northeast of Paonia at the base of the Paonia Reservoir and goes east to Crested Butte and Gunnison. Contact the Paonia Forest Service office for details (527-4131)
Stevens Gulch (Grand Mesa National Forest Access)Map
Directly across Highway 133 from the east exit to Paonia is Stevens Gulch Road. This is the second major access route into the Grand Mesa National Forest from the North Fork Valley. (The first is 3100 Rd. near Hotchkiss.) The well maintained road accesses pine and aspen forests and is compatible with passenger cars.
If you are the type that yearns for “the road less traveled” there are many small, rougher, side roads for the adventurous ATVer, mountain biker, and hiker to explore. The area is also a very popular fall deer and elk hunting destination.
During most of our light winters (on the valley floor) this is also a popular local cross country skiing and snowmobiling destination on days when a full blown trip to the top of the Grand Mesa by way of Cedaredge and Highway 65 seems like too much work.